Fortitude (as an aspect of strength)

To have fortitude means to stay focused and determined in what we are doing.

From Abdullah’s painting of fortitude, with a blue background and yellow in the centre, we can see that it is a positive quality of man.

Fortitude was taught in the Ancient Egyptian religion and from there it made its way via the Greeks into the Christian religion. 1500 years ago St Augustine said that fortitude was a love of God that allows you to willingly bear anything.

Fortitude was part of the system of chivalry followed by the early Christian Knights who were often also monks, and it was also part of the system of Bushido followed by Japanese Zen Buddhist Samurai warriors. They both had the idea that a warrior should never surrender.

A famous warrior 1800 years ago was Marcus Aurelius who was Emperor of Rome for almost 20 years. He was a tough character, but was also a good man who followed the Greek Stoic religion. In his book he talks about the way that the plants, sparrows, ants, spiders and bees, all carry out their duty to God day after day without question, and he asks why it is that men and women are often reluctant to stick at doing their duty to God.

Many Moslems and also many of us are doing the fast of Ramadhan at the moment, and it can be tempting to give it up or avoid it. Carrying on with it as best we can day after day, decade after decade requires fortitude. Abdullah often said that those who work on themselves are the true heroes.

In The Quest II Negative Attitudes Abdullah is asked:

“Q. Does weakness boil down to not fulfilling your aims?”

To which he replies:

“A. Yes and perhaps also not having any aims. What we call weakness inside a person is when they don’t have the strength to act in the right way. They behave out of fear of some kind.”

When talking about weakness Abdullah also adds that we should not forget to pray for help.

The first story today is from the Zen Buddhist tradition.

Three hundred and fifty years ago in Japan a man called Tetsugen decided to publish the Buddhist sutras in Japanese so that ordinary people in Japan could read them. He planned to print seven thousand copies, using carved wooden blocks.

Tetsugen traveled around Japan collecting donations to help pay for the work to be done. Sometimes people would give him pieces of gold, but usually he received only small coins but he always thanked each donor equally.

After ten years he had enough money to begin printing, but just at that time the Uji river overflowed and many people were left starving. Tetsugen took the money he had collected and spent it to save many people from starvation and to help them rebuild their homes and replant their fields. Then he began again his work of collecting.

Several years later a terrible disease spread over the country and Tetsugen again gave away what he had collected to help the people rebuild their lives.

For a third time he began collecting and after twenty one years his wish was finally fulfilled.

The next story is really two Sufi stories about Ajaz the slave. Retold from the book ‘Daughter of Fire’ by Irina Tweedie.

One day a King heard that a small band of foreign soldiers had crossed the border into his Kingdom, so he sent his chiefs to investigate, and he also separately sent a slave called Ajaz whom he loved.

The chiefs came back the same evening and told the King that the soldiers must have crossed the border by mistake as they had already gone by the time the chiefs arrived there.

Ajaz however, remained away for three days and the King’s advisors began to criticize him saying he was wasting his time. When Ajaz returned the King shouted at him and demanded he explain himself.

Those soldiers said Ajaz were sent by the enemy to prepare for an invasion. They first crossed the border then moved quickly on to another area where they spent the night, leaving barricades at several strategic places ready for the invasion.

“Why didn’t you have them arrested?” demanded the King.

“I did.” said Ajaz. “They are in prison awaiting your orders”.

The King then set out to attack his enemies before they could invade, and after a long battle he returned victorious and with many treasures. He was very pleased and he wanted to make his people happy so he put the treasures in a big room in the palace and announced that whoever came could lay his hand on anything in the room and take it for himself.

Crowds of people came and took slaves and carpets and perfumes and spices and silks. Ajaz just sat there quietly. “Well Ajaz” said the King “Don’t you want anything?”

“Oh great King, I’m not sure I understood your orders” said Ajaz.

“It is quite simple” said the king. “Anyone who comes and lays his hand on anything in this room, that thing belongs to him.”

Ajaz stood up and bowed deeply before the King, and then reached out and put his hand on the King’s shoulder. That is how Ajaz became the successor to the King’s throne.

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